During Derrick Rose's press conference Tuesday to announce his five-year, 94-million contract, the reigning league MVP was asked whether one of his goals was to become the best point guard in NBA history. Predictably, he deferred.
"I try not to think about that, being the best point guard. There's so many other great point guards that have played the game. Just mentioning me in the category, I think, at the end of my career, that would be something that would be great to me," the superstar answered. "I always want people to think Derrick Rose -- when they think about me -- I want them to think of a winner. That's it. Someone that went out every single night, played crazy, played well. Someone that was just a plain winner, did anything to win a game and that's what I want people to remember me for."
Since Rose is too humble to truly delve into the possibility, let's do it for him. It's only his fourth season, extremely early in what should be a long career, and he's still just scratching the surface of his potential, as hard as that may be to fathom. But it's a legitimate question, especially given his resume thus far -- two-time high school state champion, NCAA finalist in his lone college season, No. 1 overall draft pick, Rookie of the Year, two All-Star Game appearances in three seasons (including one as a starter) and of course, being named the youngest MVP in the history of the league -- and his determination to continually improve.
Magic Johnson is generally regarded as the best point guard of all-time, but he almost deserves an asterisk because a 6-foot-9 point guard was something unfair, seemingly out of a basketball geek's movie fantasy and something we haven't seen before or since. If some traditionally-thinking coach decided to stick Magic in the post as a youngster and he reluctantly embraced the role for the rest of his career, it's tough to say that the Hall of Famer wouldn't have still gone on to stardom as a revolutionary power forward-small forward hybrid (at the time) or at least been a solid pro.
When it comes to normal-sized point guards, however (yes, that excludes Oscar Robertson), most observers of hoops have the following players on their list: Isiah Thomas and John Stockton, and to a lesser extent, Tiny Archibald and Bob Cousy. Cousy was obviously a pioneer, but so few people can actually recall seeing him play live that it's hard to compare him to the others. Archibald, the only player to lead the league in scoring and assists in the same season, was definitely a great player, but he was considered more of a solo artist, who only found team success when he was an aging veteran and on a balanced Celtics team that didn't require him to be a virtuoso.
Stockton, the all-time NBA assists leader, is a tougher call. Overshadowed as an individual talent by longtime teammate Karl Malone -- arguing which player benefited more from the others' presence is like the chicken-and-egg theory -- the former Jazz great never won a title and wasn't a gaudy scorer, but when it comes to pass-first point guards, he's without peer.
But as much as basketball purists crave pass-first point guards, true superstars in this game are capable of dominating the game themselves, without having to rely on their teammates capitalizing on their passing, no matter how pinpoint. Thomas, a Chicago native, best exemplified a floor general who blended unselfishness and takeover ability, as evidenced by his many legendary performances en route to two NBA championships in one of the league's most competitive eras.
Perhaps his post-playing career has obscured some recollections of his greatness, but Thomas was a first-magnitude star with the credentials to back it up. That's why it speaks volumes when former Bulls guard Randy Brown says Rose has a chance to be the best point guard ever.
"With Derrick, he does because he amazes me with the stuff he does. It goes back to last season, back in December. We were having a conversation and he asked, 'Can he be MVP?' out of a regular conversation, and he does it. He said he wanted to be a three-point shooter and he did it. Isiah -- outstanding -- I grew up watching him as a kid and loving him, but Derrick is in a stage of his life where he could be the best point guard to come out of Chicago," Brown, who now works in the Bulls front office, told CSNChicago.com. "You know what? Clearly Rose has a chance to be the best point guard ever. I'm with him every day, so I know it's kind of biased. He's in a Bulls uniform., but really what the kid does, I think he has to be mentioned one day as the best point guard to play the game."
The anecdote Brown -- who, like Thomas, hails from the city's West Side -- retold rings a bell for this writer because I remember having a similar conversation with Rose last season. It was before the Bulls played the Cavaliers in a half-empty Cleveland arena (due to a massive snowstorm), on the sideline as he waited to warm up. The best part of this job are the casual, off-the-record conversations with players -- ranging from basketball discussions to current events, pop culture and life in general--but now that Rose's (first?) MVP is safe, I don't feel any sense of betrayal in disclosing it.
We were talking about how realistic it would be for him to win the award and how historically, few players had gone from not even being a candidate the previous season to winning it the next; Steve Nash was the notable exception we cited. Fast forward a couple months and the next thing you know, there's Rose giving an emotional speech after taking home MVP honors.
But back to his all-time best point guard potential. Something Brown and I talked about is that with Chicago's lineage at the position--in addition to Thomas, there's Tim Hardaway, for starters -- Rose simply surpassing Thomas as the best player to come from Chicago would be a major achievement. At the end of his career, despite Rose's ever-growing popularity and being a nightly fixture on highlight reels, he'll ultimately be measured by titles, the thing he cares about the most. But assuming he can win at least one (and not at the end of his playing days, just chasing a ring), when you factor in unparalleled athleticism he has for the position, he has a chance to stand alone as both the best point guard ever and the best player to come from Chicago.
Obviously it helps that he plays for the Bulls, a storied franchise in a major market, as well as his hometown. But Brown, another hometown product, says it's not always easy to play in your own backyard.
"It is difficult, playing at home because of the distractions. A lot of family, a lot of friends, people pulling at you all the time and coming from the neighborhood you came from. I grew up on the West Side of Chicago and playing on the West Side, it was tough. It definitely humbles you. I had a great supporting cast, just like Derrick does, with a lot of brothers and sisters, and my parents," said Brown, who played alongside the greatest player in franchise history, Michael Jordan, one player Rose will have a hard time passing in stature. "The most important thing is -- Derrick says it all -- he has a good foundation with his family and he stays humble. It was tough at first, as you can see, but it also was a privilege to wear a Bulls uniform because I dreamed about it and I'm pretty sure he did, too. So, it was an honor."
Rose himself talked about being from Chicago -- specifically, the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side -- but regarded it as a less of a burden than a source of pride.
"Coming from where I'm coming from, I can't explain it. I really can't explain it. I never would have thought in a million years that I'd be signing a contract like this, especially coming from the area where I'm coming from. No one from Englewood, period, has ever been in my position and sometimes it makes you think, 'Why me?,' and for me to be 23 years old, I know that I'm truly blessed, I don't take anything for granted and I appreciate everyone around me, all my fans and my family," he said. "I'm pretty quiet, so I watch everything, watch everybody and just try to learn from everyone's mistakes from the past that really got people in trouble. I'm blessed to have my friends around me that I have around me. We've been knowing each other -- some of us, the people I hang with; it's like eight of us -- been knowing them since I was in third grade, sixth grade. Played together in grammar school, high school. It's a small circle of us. It's just loyalty and trust with us, and like I said, I don't take any of them for granted, and I hope our relationship and friendship just builds on from now on."
"For me, it's kind of weird, where I hate attention, but being the player that I want to be, it comes with the territory, so I've just got to live it up. I'm always blessed to be in the position that I'm in and I just try to stay positive," he continued. "I'm just going to continue being the way that I am."
Doing just that could leave him in some rare company as a player. He's already there as a person.